Bamul / Member

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Zeno Clash Review

Had this one ready for a while now, I just didn't get around to posting it. Sorry for the lack of apostrophes in this review - GS ate them again. The version at the review page is fine as always though.

ZENO CLASH - For PC - Review by Bamul

Zeno Clash Boxshot

The human minds creative imagination and the work of a talented team of developers can create something truly special.

Difficulty: Just Right
Time Spent: 10 Hours or Less
The Bottom Line: "Surprisingly good"

How many first-person fighting games have you played? No, Im not talking about the Elder Scrolls series or Mirrors Edge. Sure, those games allow you to punch and kick from a first-person camera perspective, but that isnt their main point. Personally I dont think Ive ever played a first-person fighting game before, so you can imagine how intrigued I was when I saw Zeno Clash for the first time. What is this? A first-person fighting game? Well, thats unusual. I had never gotten around to buying it until the Steam Christmas Sale of 2012. After finishing it, I decided that I should share my opinion of the game with you.

The first thing that makes Zeno Clash stand out is the unique artistic style of its visuals. I dont know what ACE Team (the developers of the game) were smoking when they made this, but the game sure does look really trippy. Remember the Shivering Isles expansion for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? Giant yellow mushrooms, rooms turning into butterflies - that sort of stuff. Well, if you took that and multiplied it by crazy times five then youd get Zeno Clash, and this is one of its strongest points.

Everything from the creature design to NPCs, weapons and environments looks fantastical. Most of the enemies you will fight are hybrids of different animals, like chickens, pigs, fish, elephants and so on, but with human features applied to their appearance. Its a really interesting world that they made for this game, full of vibrant colours, funky shapes and imaginative designs. These great visuals are used to create moments of baffling folly or enchanting beauty, and neither of these ever disappoints.

Zeno Clashs plot is just as strange as its graphics. The story is set in a fantasy realm called Zenozoik. As the player, you take on the role of Ghat - a man who wakes up after triggering an explosion that kills Father-Mother, a seemingly hermaphroditic being and Ghats supposed parent. Ghat belonged to Father-Mothers large and powerful family of offspring until discovering a dark secret and attacking his parent in result. Consequently, Ghat is banished from the family and forced to flee from his numerous revengeful siblings. On this journey he is accompanied by Deadra, a female companion who attempts to save him from apathetic madness and I wont spoil any more than that.

This story, as well as the world that it takes place in, might not and most probably will not make any sense to you when you start playing the game. The basics of the plot are simple enough, but all the little details beyond the outline seem nonsensical. However, this is all part of the games abstract themes, and the best forms of abstract art dont explain everything, thus leaving much to be explained by the viewers imagination and their own interpretation of whats what. If you look deeper into some of this narratives aspects - such as: the names of various characters, their appearance, the dialogue between them, the atmosphere of each environment and so on - then you might find some profound meanings and messages behind it all. If not, then at least the characters are likeable and fascinating.

As I mentioned earlier, Zeno Clash is one of the very few games out there that are considered first-person fighting games. Its been tried before, but it rarely worked because melee combat usually looks and feels very clumsy from this perspective. Zeno Clash actually manages to create something fairly original, innovative and most importantly it works! It does get a bit clunky at times, as the camera occasionally turns in an uncomfortable direction when punching a targeted enemy.

At first, the gameplay itself consists of mostly hand-to-hand combat. A diverse array of punch, kick, elbow and knee attacks (with various levels of speed and power) can be used to knock out hostiles. The lock-on option can be used to ensure that all of your strikes land on the chosen opponent. Later on in the game, a selection of weapons appears - some very creative designs of ranged armaments and a few simpler, bludgeoning tools can be used to defeat heavier foes. Its not perfect, but still highly entertaining with engaging action, challenging enemies and brutally satisfying combat. The level progression is linear, with some cutscenes in between segments of gameplay - which is a shame since it would have been a blast to explore Zenozoik in an open world environment.

The satisfaction in combat is achieved through not only well-animated characters, but also outstanding sound effects that make each punch feel impactful. The quality of the audio is equally awesome in the music, with strange tunes of many different types to match Zenozoiks oddness. The voice acting of each character is good, but nothing exceptional and there are no standout performances. The lines could have been spoken with more emotion, but instead many of the actors sound a bit confused. This is unexpected and unusual, which suits the rest of the games tone. Other less-humanoid creatures make bizarrely beastly sounds.

Now lets summarize what Zeno Clash is like:

GAMEPLAY - 8.5/10 (Great)
Its an interesting mix of melee and ranged combat, as well as being one of the very few first-person fighting games to work so well.

STABILITY - 8/10 (Impressive)
Apart from occasional freezes in menus with music glitches and other bugs present in most Source engine games, Zeno Clash is very playable.

STORY - 7.5/10 (Good)
Its well-written and makes enough sense to be understandable, but a lot has to be interpreted and sometimes perhaps its a bit too much.

GRAPHICS - 10/10 (Marvellous)
Technologically decent graphics, the human minds creative imagination and the work of a talented team of developers form something truly extraordinary.

SOUND - 8.5/10 (Great)
Sound effects add satisfying impact to combat, voice acting suits the narrative and the soundtrack is packed full of fittingly strange music.

LONGEVITY - 4/10 (Unsatisfactory)
Consider the facts: this game normally costs £6.99, but the singleplayer is under 4 hours long and there is no multiplayer some games are meant to be short, but considering the price, this is unfair. You could wait until another sale and buy it for £0.69 like I did (then its more than worth it), but that doesnt change the fact that the original price is off-putting.

When small and new developers from different places around the world come up with fresh, new and ingenious ideas like Zeno Clash, I grow more & more interested in the indie scene. Not bound by an oppressive publisher, ACE Team has managed to create something great. Not everyone may like this game, but its certainly something different and, for me, Zeno Clash is something special now if only it cost a bit less or was a bit longer. With news of a sequel coming sometime in 2013, lets hope this promising series gets the bigger budget that it deserves and reaches an even higher standard of quality.

OVERALL RATING 7.5/10 (Good)

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